(Trigger Warning: mentions of suicide and mental health topics)
A few times a week, I roll out of bed at 7:30 in the morning to get ready to go to work. “Go” to work at this point is subjective, because for me (and many others amidst the COVID-19 pandemic) going to work means simply walking downstairs and logging onto my computer. Over the course of the last 5 months and now flowing into this semester, I have been working for a crisis lifeline dealing with suicide and other mental health crises. I specifically work on the chat line, which means that I don’t speak on the phone to callers, but I talk to people through online chat or text.
Generally speaking, chat specialists like me are trained to assume that each person we encounter on the Lifeline is experiencing some level of suicidal ideation, including the possibility of imminent danger. For the duration of my four hour shift, which tends to extend into the five hour time frame depending on how long the last chat taken goes, I talk to people who are experiencing wide ranges of mental health crises. I’ve spoken to people of all ages, from young kids ages 10 and 11, to older chatters ages 80 and up. This type of work is not only incredibly important, but also very emotional and heavy. The training I received to do this job was extensive, adding up to around 60+ hours, and it was very in-depth to ensure that all people participating in this work are committed, empathetic, open-minded, non-judgemental, and compassionate so that we can properly help people reaching out for support.
Doing this job is really important to me because there are so many people out there who feel disconnected from the world, who feel like they don’t matter, and who feel like, if they were gone, nobody would care. It is not uncommon for someone experiencing suicidal ideation to be having these thoughts, but every time I hear someone message me that, it breaks my heart. A lot of times, younger chatters in particular have a really hard time even thinking about opening up to an adult about what they’ve been going through. It’s scary to be vulnerable when you don’t necessarily know how the information will be received by the other person. Creating space for someone to open up about traumatic events or share what they’ve been going through makes such a huge difference.
These mental health struggles are very near and dear to me, not only because I am working through my own mental health journey, but also because some of my closest friends have struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and traumatic events. I really wanted to get into this work because not everyone has a support system, and I want to help these people looking for safety and support to feel a little bit less alone. Since this work can be very taxing on my own mental health, I try to practice self care after my shifts to destress/decompress and not take on the feelings I help to alleviate on chat. In addition, I try to encourage those I am chatting with to also do some self care after we’re done. Things like listening to a favorite artist, watching a favorite tv show, or journaling are among the most popular ways for people to self care after a draining and exhausting day.
During this period of time with the Covid-19 pandemic and intense social unrest, in addition to increased stress due to the 2020 election, suicide hotlines have seen large upticks in callers and chatters. According to one study done by the Pine Rest Mental Health Services in June, calls have been up 47% across the nation, and some hotlines have even seen a 300% increase (Krafcik). Feelings of isolation, grief/loss, depression, anxiety, self-harm and many other mental health issues have soared. I am not saying this to make life feel more heavy or overwhelming, but in hopes that those of you out there feeling these emotions know that you are not alone in these times. Please, if you are experiencing any level of mental health struggles, know that there are places for you to go. So many people I’ve encountered since starting my job are just looking for a little bit of support, and that feeling of having someone listen and validate you can make so much of a difference. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available anytime 24/7 to help people navigate difficult and painful emotions and thoughts.
If you are in distress and need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call or text 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Don’t be afraid to look up hotlines in your county too, as those can be equally as helpful in providing support and someone comforting to talk to.